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Mind Your Monkeys

worried monkeys

Photo by Patrick Nijhuis

I have a mind that never shuts off. It’s like a 24/7 news station, giving me up-to-the-minute warnings, analysis, investigative reports, predictions, and reviews. This is great for brainstorming and multi-tasking. Not so great for relaxing and re-centering. It can become quite a jungle up there. I like to call my virtual wild kingdom of ideas, movement, and chatter Monkey Mind. If you think you’ve heard that term before, you’re right…I snagged it from the Buddhists. Don’t worry, I cleared it with them first.

When life throws me a challenge, my monkeys tend to call out in protest, a little like this:

Monkeys:  Who do you think you are? You can’t do this!

Me:  Why not? Other people have.

Monkeys:  Yeah. Smarter, better looking, more charismatic, more talented people.

Me:  That’s so mean!

Monkeys:  Look, we’re just telling you how it is, sugar puff. [Nods of agreement all around.] You’re a nobody in this world and you might as well face it. It’ll take you too long to master the skills or gain experience, and frankly you’re too old to start now.

Me:  No! I can do this! I believed in myself yesterday. [Pause.] At least I think I did.

Monkeys:  Well, that was Head in the Clouds Day. This is Come Back to Earth and Deal with the Hard Truth Day.

Photo by K.C. © 2013 Kristin Conroy

Here’s a hard truth: I can’t banish my Monkey Mind permanently. It’s part of my personality, inherited from a long line of overly active-minded ancestors. I can, however, keep the uprisings to a minimum. I’ve succeeded in taming my monkeys from wild, screaming primates who fling poo to civilized primates who drink tea and discuss the meaning of life in hushed tones.

I used to listen to my monkeys, mistaking their rants as gospel. I didn’t even know I had a Monkey Mind until a few years ago…I thought I was just crazy. I used to let them run the joint, allowing them to feed me a diet of self-doubt and anxiety that kept me from attaining groundedness and balance. It wasn’t until I accepted the presence of my Monkey Mind that I was able to do something about it. 

I know there are others like me out there with Monkey Minds because…well, I’ve met some of them. And that usually means there are many more I haven’t met. Therefore, I’d like to share what helps me soothe my vine-swinging mind primates, just in case you are one of those special people. I learned to be the zookeeper of my monkeys. I not only have to show them who’s in charge but take care of them as well. Make sure they get sleep, love, playtime, mental stimulation, and proper nutrition. I highly recommend practicing yoga. Find the kind that works for you. It’s not only beneficial for your body, but makes you feel mentally lighter and more focused too.

The biggest effect on my monkeys, however, is eating real food. Real food means food that’s minimally processed and originally sourced from something other than a box, bag, or can. Dark leafy greens especially make my monkeys sit down and shut up. Believe me, there’s a difference between forking in the good stuff and indulging in too much crap. I’ve tested this theory out more times than I’d like to admit. I also eat every 3 hours so my monkeys stay cool, calm, and collected. Dips in blood sugar make for some mean monkeys. Now they’re just lean monkeys. Psssst! Eating small, frequent meals speeds up your metabolism! Take a gander at my recipes page for good eatin’ ideas.

Photo by Dominic Morel

Photo by Dominic Morel

Another significant part of the primate training process is keeping things in perspective. A Monkey Mind distracts you from focusing on what really matters in life. Monkeys have short-sighted vision, seeing only the fleas on the neighboring monkeys’ backs instead of the beauty of the jungle and the opportunities it offers. When my monkeys are in a frenzy and giving me directions to the loony bin, I arrange a sit-down with them:

Me:  Is worrying about this important to my happiness?

Monkeys:  Huh? Ummm…no.

Me:  The happiness of my friends and family?

Monkeys:  Hmm…I guess not.

Me:  Will focusing on this help me achieve my dreams or goals, allow me to grow or evolve, or effectively solve the problems of the human race?

Monkeys:  NoBut, but…

Me:  No buts, monkeys!  Answer me!

Monkeys:  [Sighs all around.] Noooooooooo.

Me:  Ha! I thought so.

In this case, as is usually the case, I’ll then kindly ask my monkeys to return to their cages to do some Sun Salutations.  Now, this doesn’t mean I can avoid things like bills, chores, errands, annoying work projects, or dealing with difficult people. But comparing these “problems” to the grand scheme of life prevents me from having a panic attack or tantrum because of the misplaced focus of my near-sighted monkeys.

It’s a challenge to live with a Monkey Mind, but when you’re in control, you can live a happy, balanced life. I encourage you to focus on experiences, not things.  Focus on love and appreciation, not being right or perfect. And by the way…perfection is for crazy people. Forget about trying to get there, have that, or wanting others to be that. You and your melon full of monkeys have no use for perfect because…it doesn’t exist.

So in conclusion:

  • Be aware of your Monkey Mind and accept it. It’s part of your charm.
  • Know your monkeys. What sets them off and what calms them down.
  • Be master of your monkeys. Otherwise, they’ll master you.
  • Enjoy life! Laugh fearlessly, love infinitely, give of yourself fully, grab opportunities firmly, learn voraciously. Do things that scare you so you can grow. You only get one chance to live this life. So make it count!

 

5 Steps To Turning Your New Year’s Resolutions Into Realities

Pen and PaperAccording to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology (December 13, 2012), 45% of Americans usually begin the year with New Year’s Resolutions, yet only 8% are successful with their goals.  That’s…depressing.

I don’t believe the problem lies with the people who make resolutions, nor in the resolutions themselves.  I think it’s in the planning and execution.  So let’s plan for success and take those goals from paper to reality!

How to Turn Your List of Resolutions into Realities

1.  Prioritize it.  This is not supposed to be a TO-DO (or NOT TO-DO) list, but rather a list of goals, which take effort, time, and determination to accomplish.  So don’t set yourself up for failure and discouragement by listing every single thing you want to do or stop doing.  Perhaps choose one goal for each major category of life: Health/Wellness, Family/Relationships, Work/Career, Spirituality/Growth, and Finances.  Or if one area needs a lot of work–or is most important to you–focus all your resolutions to fit that need. 

2.  Reword it.  Spend some time wording your goals so that they inspire you and put the focus on what matters.  I’ll use a few common resolutions as examples:

  • “Lose 10 pounds.”  First off, I don’t like this one because it puts the focus on weight and what you look like on the outside.  You could lose 10 pounds and be miserable because you starved or deprived yourself.  This is usually why the weight comes back because nothing really changed…the goal was merely to attain a specific loss of weight.  What if you reworded “Lose 10 pounds” to “Feel amazing in a bathing suit”?  See how the focus is now on self-esteem and inner results?  Interestingly, being happy and healthy on the inside will show up as the outer results of weight loss you wanted in the first place.  

Some other examples of rewording:

  • “Quit smoking.” vs. “Choose to put my health before my habit.”
  • “Get organized.” vs. “Organize my physical and mental space so I can be productive and balanced.”

3.  Plan it.  Now that you have a descriptive and inspiring list of goals, you need to plan for success!  Wearing a bathing suit with confidence is a great goal, but what does that look like?  Are you going to plan out healthy meals for the week so you don’t cave in for junk food when you’re tired and hungry?  Will you commit to yoga/spin/dance/boxing classes and lift weights to get the long, lean, sculpted physique you desire?  If you don’t brainstorm how you can accomplish your goals, you’re likely to abandon them.

  • Think outside the box.  So you want to “Be stress-free” (which you might have reworded to “Find my Zen every day” in Step 1!).   Taking yoga and getting massages are wonderful ideas.  But go further by getting creative.  Eating immune-boosting, nutrition-packed foods will keep you healthy and at your best.  As a result, you’ll reduce your stress levels as you’ll be more equipped to handle what life throws at you.  Also, what makes you happy, content, peaceful, calm?  Reading a great book?  Taking a stroll in the park?  A long bath?  If you figure out what those things are and add as many of those activities to your daily life as possible, you’ll experience more “happy” and less “crappy.”
  • But be realistic.  Can you realistically spend an hour communing with nature or reading a book each day?  Then don’t make that declaration.  Instead, keep your happy list in mind and sneak them in whenever the opportunity presents itself.  Take that best-selling book out when you’re faced with standing in a long line (that would normally stress you out!) or spend 5 minutes sitting outside in a sunny spot on your lunch break.  Even doing a little bit of what makes you happy is infinitely better than doing none at all.

4.  Theme it.  It’s likely that you can find a theme that embodies all your resolutions.  Unearthing a theme that connects with you and is rich in meaning is a powerful tool in living the life you imagine.  It should resonate with you, make you feel something, propel you forward, support you in your journey toward this year’s goals.  Here are some examples of themes and what they can represent:

  • The Year of Letting Go – Letting go of things that don’t serve you–insecurities, fear, bad habits, destructive relationships, negativity–so you have room to welcome in all the good things that are possible.
  • Just Do It – Saying yes to relationships, job opportunities, experiences, adventures.  Taking action, taking charge, taking control.  Doing instead of only thinking/hoping/planning.
  • Love and Light – Associating yourself with inspiring people, feeding yourself positive messages, looking for the joy in life and reflecting it, opening yourself up to love from yourself and others.

Hold your year’s theme in your mind as you go about your daily life.  You’ll find your actions will start to follow your theme, and therefore, contribute to achieving your resolutions.

5.  Memorize it.  Once your resolutions are focused, powerful, planned, and themed, it’s time to commit your goals to memory.  The more they are a part of you, the more likely you’ll see them to fruition.

You can do it!

More posts related to resolutions/goals

How to Make Big Changes When You Have No Time to Spare

What if I said that in a year you could learn 365 new words, write a short story (or even a book), learn a new language, increase your body’s strength and flexibility, and improve your sense of well-being without adding any more time to your day?  You’d think I was nuts, right?  Well it’s true!  Although we all have jam-packed, hectic, no-time-for-anything-else lives, we can still accomplish some of those wish list items we have floating about in our heads.  How?  By using those “wasted” moments in our day to focus on our goals.

How could you use your commute to reach your goals?

How much time do you spend in a line, in a waiting room, in front of the TV, or in a bus/train/plane/automobile?  How much time do you take getting ready in the morning, puttering around on your lunch break, walking from point A to B?  Probably quite a bit.  And how much of that time is spent staring into space, listening to music, trying to look busy, flipping through a magazine, or checking Facebook?  Facebook statistics reveal that the average user spends 55 minutes a day on the site.  That’s about 6.5 hours a week!!  Instead of spending all that time reading up on other people’s lives, shouldn’t we be spending some of that time advancing our own?

Now, if you don’t mind spending your time the way you are, that’s fine.  But if you’d like to create more, learn more, and improve more…then use those hours with intent!  Last week I realized I’d gotten lazy with my intentions.  I used to read, write, plan, or try to learn something during my waiting/travel time.  Once I set my intentions to get something done during those moments, that’s exactly what happened.  Over the course of a week, I wrote a poem, lyrics for a song, a passage for my book-in-progress, and a rough draft of this blog post…only while I was waiting in lines and on subway platforms, and while traveling on trains.  Without adding any more time to my day–without adding more stress or complication to my life–I’d increased my sense of accomplishment, satisfaction, and well-being…and had tangible things to show for my effort.  I’m excited to see how much I’ll get done in 51 more weeks!

Here are some examples of goals you could end up checking off that wish list:

  • Increase my vocab – Get a dictionary app on your smart phone and learn one word a day.  To really make it stick, repeat the new word with the definition in your head throughout the day and try to use it in a sentence during a conversation.  Maybe save those really long words for family and friends:)
  • Increase my strength and flexibility – While watching TV, do squats, tricep dips, abdominal crunches, and finish up with stretching.  If you have a bike or cardio machine in your house, get on it while you watch your show.  Even if you’re a bit of a couch potato, you don’t have to look like one!
  • Increase my literary or language knowledge – On long commutes, listen to audio books, or learn a language on CD or mp3.  I recommend the latter only if you’re in the car to avoid stares or bothering others.
  • Increase my confidence, attitude, and sense of well-being – While you walk from the car to the store, from your desk to the water cooler, or while you look at yourself in the mirror (the point is you can do this anywhere) repeat affirmations you’ve created for yourself.  You’ll feel and see the changes they bring, and others will too.

So now it’s time to ask yourself: What can I accomplish if I just used those “wasted” moments with intent?  I’d love to hear your ideas!

Property of Kristin Conroy

Achieving Health and Wellness Resolutions, Step 3: Choose Better Thoughts

Laugh often...it's good for your health!

Once you’ve experienced the benefits of Step 1 (Choose Better Food) and Step 2 (Choose Better Behaviors), you’re primed to incorporate Step 3, Choose Better Thoughts.

You know the proverb, You are what you think.  What you say to, and think about, yourself shapes the person you are and could become.  It’s not easy to change the way you think, but choosing positive, supportive, health-inducing thoughts is the only way to make health and wellness a successful and permanent part of your life.

The following “Better Thoughts” were integral in my breaking free from food and body image issues.  I hope they can support you in achieving your health and wellness goals.

Be your own best friend.

Photo by K.C. © 2012 Kristin Conroy

What do you see when you look in the mirror?  Your best friend or your worst enemy?  We’re taught to treat others with kindness and respect, but many of us don’t extend that courtesy to ourselves.  You would never tell someone you cared about that they’re stupid, fat, or weak.  So don’t tell yourself those things either.  Sometimes those messages aren’t intentional; we’re so used to saying them that it doesn’t seem like a big deal.  But the messages you tell yourself every day have an effect on you, whether you realize it or not.

Monitor the thoughts you have about yourself.  Practice turning negative messages into positive ones.  Maybe try supportive affirmations until those replace your old, negative mantras.  If you can’t love your body for the way it looks right now, love it for its function.  For example, I’m not a big fan of the way my arms look, but I can love how they’re strong and give really awesome hugs.  When you concentrate on what you love or appreciate about yourself, you’re much happier when you look in the mirror.  And in supporting and nurturing yourself, you’re more likely to reach your health and wellness goals.

Forget diets, a.k.a the “quick fix”

Photo by K.C. © 2012 Kristin Conroy

Dieting doesn’t work.  (This post explains more.Think about the quality of the food you eat, instead of basing its merits on calories and fat grams.  Why?  Because calories and fat grams are not all equal!  A piece of fruit vs. a fruit roll-up; olive oil vs. margarine; freshly juiced apples vs. commercial apple juice; raw cheese vs. cheese whiz….these pairs are not equal, even if the calorie count and fat grams say they are.

When I used to only focus on calories and fat grams to evaluate food, I wasn’t considering nutrition.  I chose a lot of artificial food.  And I was miserable.  When I turned my focus to quality and nourishment, the obvious choices were the least processed ones.  They also were the most satisfying, so I ate less.  Maintaining a healthy weight became rather effortless, which let my mind concentrate on more important things, like enjoying life!

And may I offer a reality check that will help you big time?  A slice of cheesecake will not lead to your undoing.  Nor will missing a day at the gym.  That’s dieting mentality, and I won’t stand for it!  Life happens, we’re human.  Accept it happened, take responsibility, and get over it.  Tough love lesson has now concluded.

Rather than looking at eating healthy as depriving yourself from the less-than-optimal food you love, think of it as offering yourself more nutrition.  There’s a big difference between “I can’t have that” (deprivation and judgement) and “I’d rather choose something with more nourishment” (support).  It was a huge mental hurdle for me, but once I disentangled myself from the habit of short-term thinking, I was able to see big changes in my health.

Know Thyself.

Photo by K.C. © 2012 Kristin Conroy

Learn to listen to what your body tells you.  We are born with bodies that have innate wisdom.  They know when we’re hungry or full;  what foods work with our bodies and which ones don’t; when we need to slow down and recuperate.  After ignoring and overriding those instincts from years of dieting and trying to keep up with cultural standards, we can lose that wisdom.  The good news is that our bodies doesn’t lose their wisdom…we just have to relearn how to listen to and interpret their messages.

Closing thoughts

This month I’ve introduced you to the 3 steps I think will help you achieve your health and wellness resolutions.  While these steps are simple, they’re not necessarily easy.  Be patient with yourself.  Instead of getting overwhelmed trying to put everything into action, focus on what food, actions, and thoughts will benefit you.  Choose ones that are within your comfort zone.  When those are a part of you, choose better ones.  And so on.  You wouldn’t consider climbing Mt. Everest on the first try.  You’d have to plan, prepare, and practice, while making a bunch of mistakes along the way.  Don’t think of the finish line right now.  Just the next step forward. 

In choosing better food, behaviors, and thoughts on a consistent basis, you’ll make your health and wellness resolutions a way of life.  Enjoy the journey to whole body nourishment!

Hutch and burrito

Achieving Health and Wellness Resolutions, Step 1: Choose Better Food

Food is the foundation of health, and can either support wellness or take away from it.  Choosing better food is the first step in achieving your health and wellness resolutions.  Why?  Because eating quality food affects how your body and mind operates, and in the long run, your health becomes an accumulation of your food choices.

What does choosing better food mean?  Let’s start with what it doesn’t mean.  It doesn’t mean diets, deprivation, or extremes.  Choosing better food does not require drastic or emotionally painful changes.  In my experience, that sets you up for failure, both mentally and physically.

Below, I’ve listed what I consider the key points to choosing better food.  While you put these in to practice, remember that you’ll want these changes to be with you for the rest of your life.  So take it easy.  Take it slow.  Be aware of how your mind and body respond.  Don’t deprive yourself…encourage yourself to eat better.

Be unrefined.

I used to be hooked on nutritionally deficient foods.  Artificial sweeteners, refined food, processed food…basically crap food.  I was tired, emotionally imbalanced, and evaluated the merits of food solely on calories and fat grams.  Because I deprived myself on a daily basis, I was miserable and thought about food all the time.  I didn’t realize all my suffering stemmed from eating so many nutritionally empty foods.

Now I focus on “real food.”  Check out this short video to find out what that means.  If eating real food is new to you, start slowly.  Make small upgrades.  Try brown rice instead of white.  A fresh peach instead of canned.  Mixed green salad instead of iceberg.  Soda water with a splash of orange juice instead of orange soda.  If you go slowly, you won’t be traumatized and the changes will stick with you.

Get a handle on your cravings.

We all have cravings, but giving in to refined and processed foods all the time will take a toll on your health.  Those sweet, salty, crunchy, and chewy cravings have healthy substitutes.  But if you have a craving for a specific thing (like Ben & Jerry’s Chubby Hubby ice cream) and nothing but that exact food will satisfy you, then for goodness sake have it so you can get on with your life!  Enjoy it, savor it, allow a little squeal of glee.

When you make healthful food a part of your daily life, you’ll start craving those foods instead.  Refined, processed foods will start to lose their appeal.  I couldn’t believe the first time I woke up and couldn’t wait to eat some kale!  I actually feel unsettled if I don’t eat vegetables every day, especially the green leafy variety.  Now those are the kinds of cravings you can give in to whenever you like!

Plan ahead.

Choosing better food means planning ahead.  If I have a busy week and know I’m not going to be up to taking much time to prepare my meals, I carve out a few hours the Sunday before to cook for the week.  I clean and cut a ton of veggies, double or triple recipes, make sure I have essential oils/ingredients on hand…whatever I can think of that will cut my cooking time down to 10 minutes or less.

If you don’t have that kind of time, you can still eat nutritious food with little planning.  Take a look at this grocery list:

  • carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers
  • pre-cut or frozen broccoli
  • canned chickpeas and black beans
  • brown rice
  • Ezekiel bread
  • salad greens
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • lemons
  • whole free-range chicken (already roasted) from the deli department

By incorporating spices and common condiments you have in the fridge, this grocery list makes lunch and dinner options that take very little time to make.  Here are some meal examples:

  1. Salad with roasted chicken, veggies, and chickpeas with olive oil and lemon dressing (and spices)
  2. Stir-fry of brown rice, broccoli, and chicken (using olive oil, maybe lemon, spices)
  3. Chicken, salad greens, and tomato sandwich (using mayo, mustard, or olive oil)
  4. Chicken with beans and rice (using olive oil, spices)

I know these meals are all centered around chicken, but can you see how many quick meals you could make with a simple grocery list of versatile, nutritious ingredients?

Taking the time to plan out healthy meals will keep you eating right while saving you money spent on take-out and eating out.

Be realistic.

Choosing better food means doing the best with what’s available and doable.  Sometimes you’re at a friend’s house for a dinner and the menu’s out of your control.  Sometimes you go to a restaurant that doesn’t have many, or any, healthy options.  Sometimes you’re driving through the desert and the only place to eat is a tiny gas station.  Sometimes you simply just want to order the amazing lobster mac-n-cheese!  It’s OK.  Shoot for eating quality, unrefined food 80% of the time.  Do that, you won’t have to sweat the other 20%.

The more often you choose better food, the more it will become part of your life.

Need some healthy menu ideas?  Take a look at my Recipes Page for deliciously unrefined eating!